Local Politics

Warren Takes Steps Toward Possible Senate Bid

By The Associated Press   |   Thursday, August 11, 2011
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Aug. 11, 2011

Elizabeth Warren testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 16, 2011 before a House subcommittee on Financial Services. (AP)

WASHINGTON — Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is taking the first steps toward launching a possible challenge against Republican Scott Brown, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts and a top Democratic target in 2012.

The 62-year-old Harvard law professor began contacting top Massachusetts Democrats on Thursday, including party Chairman John Walsh, about a potential candidacy.

Warren plans to make a decision after Labor Day and will spend the next few weeks talking with voters and party activists, a Democrat close to the national leadership told The Associated Press. The person was not authorized to speak publicly, and requested anonymity.

"I left Washington, but I don't plan to stop fighting for middle class families," Warren wrote in a posting Thursday on Blue Mass Group, a popular blog among Massachusetts Democrats. "I spent years working against special interests and have the battle scars to show it — and I have no intention of stopping now."

A favorite of consumer groups and liberals, Warren was tapped by President Barack Obama last year to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congressional Republicans opposed her becoming the bureau's director, and Obama in July decided not to pick her to head the new agency, sparking speculation that she might challenge Brown.

Top national Democrats desperate to find a strong challenger to take back the Massachusetts seat long held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy have been urging Warren to run for months. A poll in March showed Brown as the most popular politician in the state.

Warren, who lives in Cambridge, has never held elective office. She left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau this summer, and recently returned from a vacation with her family to consider running.

Warren did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

In a move that appeared to underscore her seriousness about the race, two prominent Massachusetts political strategists - Doug Rubin and Kyle Sullivan — are assisting her as she decides. Rubin is the former top political strategist for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Democrats say her image as a crusader on behalf of consumers against well-heeled Wall Street and corporate interests would be a boon to her candidacy. Party leaders also believe her national profile would help her raise the money needed to topple Brown, who has more than $10 million in his campaign account.

Faced with a crowded field, Democrats worry that a long, costly and divisive primary could dash their hopes of reclaiming the seat after their embarrassing loss to Brown in 2010.

There are several Democrats already running, including Setti Warren, the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton and the state's first popularly elected black mayor; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei; and Robert Massie, a former lieutenant governor candidate.

Mayor Lang Will Decide On Senate Run Next Year

By WGBH News   |   Thursday, July 7, 2011
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Jul. 7, 2011

BOSTON — New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang says he hasn’t ruled out a run for Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate seat next year, but that he won’t make a decision until January 2012.
In an interview with WGBH’s Emily Rooney, Lang said his future plans could include continued runs for public office.

New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang talks with Rep. Barney Frank and Gov. Deval Patrick in New Bedford in January. (Office of Gov. Patrick/Flickr)

“I might want to throw my name out in different races and I think the Senate race next year is a really important race,” Lang said, “but I’m not going to make a decision until after the first of the year.”
Lang said that he may instead compelled to return to his law practice when his term is up. “I’m going to look at everything, you know, as far as whether or not I ever run again. I’m certainly anxious to get back to private life, I’m looking forward to doing some public interest type of law as well as private practice,” Lang said.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren faced hometown criticism when he announced his bid for the Senate seat earlier this year, less than two years into his term. Also in the race are City Year co-founder Alan Khazei and Somerville activist Bob Massie. Some observers say Rep. Mike Capuano and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Elizabeth Warren could also enter the race.

Lawmaker: Time To End Mass. Ban On Selling Fireworks

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Thursday, June 30, 2011
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June 20, 2011

BOSTON — As the Fourth of July approaches, one Massachusetts lawmaker wants to end the state's long-held ban on the sale of fireworks. 

Small fireworks are seen on Plymouth Beach. (Mark Chisholm/Flickr)

Gardner State Rep Rich Bastien says Bay State residents are sneaking over the border to other New England states to buy fireworks.

“At this point, anybody in Massachusetts can drive within an hour to go purchase fireworks, every night they’re being used in our communities. The ban is ineffective. So my point is let’s legalize it, let’s put some common sense regulations in, and let’s keep the revenue and the jobs in the state,” Bastien said.  

It’s illegal for Massachusetts residents to bring in fireworks from other states, but Bastien says it happens all the time and it’s costing the Bay State money — about $40 million, according to his estimates. So Bastien's filed a bill that would legalize the sale of fireworks in the commonwealth. But using them would still be illegal without registering with the local fire department.  

The Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts says changing current law could lead to an increase in injuries and strain fire departments’ resources.  Massachusetts is one of just four states — along with New York, New Jersey and Delaware — with a complete ban on fireworks.  The new bill is currently under review by the Legislature's Committee on Public Safety.

Sen. Brown, Rep. Tierney Chastise Federal Fishing Authority

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, June 21, 2011
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June 21, 2011

BOSTON — A group of Massachusetts’ lawmakers is coming down hard on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency at the center of a contentious debate over regional fishing rights and the subject of a damning Commerce Department investigation last year.
During a Congressional hearing on the agency held in Boston on Tuesday, Rep. John Tierney called for the resignation of NOAA’s chief, Jane Lubchenco. He said the agency failed to respond adequately to reports of abuses by its staff.
"I don’t see the empathy that ought to be there, I don’t see the understanding. And the real commitment to make sure that their positions are understood and factored into any decisions that are made," Tierney said. 
Tierney joins a growing chorus of lawmakers, including Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, who say that Lubchenco failed to respond to reports of abuses at NOAA quickly enough.   
The investigation, by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Inspector General, found NOAA was charging fishermen outlandish fines for small offenses. The money then went into a NOAA fund with no oversight. It was used by regulators to pay for fishing conferences in exotic locations such as Australia, Malaysia and Norway. It also purchased a $300,000 fishing boat used by government employees for fishing trips.  
The Inspector General also found the agency’s Law Enforcement Director, Dale Jones, shredded garbage bags full of documents in the middle of the investigation.
U.S. Sen. Scott Brown asked NOAA’s assistant fisheries director, Eric Schwaab, about Jones’ current whereabouts, but Schwaab refused to comment. He has said Jones was removed from his job, but according to CBS news, Schwaab remains an analyst still making a six-figure salary.
Schwaab also says the agency is addressing past abuses by making a number of financial reforms. Sen. Brown applauded these actions, but many fishermen say they ring hollow when the perpetrators remain unpunished.
Brown said the problem at NOAA goes deeper than what was uncovered in that investigation alone.
"NOAA's history of overzealous enforcement in the New England Fishery has come at the cost of the fishermen’s' trust and their livelihood. And many of them tell me that the folks in Washington regard them as criminals instead of a legitimate and valued regulated industry," Brown said.
In May, the Commerce Secretary ordered the agency to return tens of thousands of dollars in fines to fishermen. The government is still investigating if funds collected through fines are being used properly.

Budget Compromise, Trafficking Bill On The Docket

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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May 31, 2011

BOSTON — This week on Beacon Hill, the budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year head to conference committee, lawmakers take up a human-trafficking bill, and University of Massachusetts trustees discuss potential fee hikes. 

A six-member conference committee will iron out a compromise between the spending plans passed by the House and the SenateBoth versions would make deep cuts to Medicaid. They would slash state aid to cities and towns by $65 million. Both bills would also weaken municipal employees' ability to bargain over health care benefits.

On Wednesday, the UMass Board of Trustees meets to consider fee hikes. Student fees could go up by as much as 8 percent —  or almost $900 hundred next year. The meeting comes as renewal of a contract for UMass Amherst Chancellor Holub's tenure has been called into question.

Also this week, the House debates Attorney General Martha Coakley's bill to help combat human trafficking in the state. The proposal would make human trafficking a felony, and it would give prosecutors more tools to go after pimps and people who solicit prostitutes. Massachusetts is only one of five state without a human trafficking law on the books.

And this weekend, state Democrats gather in Lowell for their annual convention. They'll hear short speeches from the candidates who intend to challenge U.S. Senator Scott Brown. Political observers say that Democratic officials aren't satisfied yet with the field of candidates, and they're still looking for a big name contender to take on the G.O.P.

Senate May Slash Budget; DiMasi Trial Continues

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Monday, May 23, 2011
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May 23, 2011

BOSTON — This week on Beacon Hill, lawmakers will take up the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s budget plan for the fiscal year that begins in July. Meanwhile, the corruption trial of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi enters its third week of testimony.

The chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee says the state is facing one of its worst fiscal challenges ever. The budget that comes before the full Senate on Wednesday would slash millions of dollars from direct aid to cities and towns. It would reduce support for needy families and make deep cuts to the arts. Thousands of poor children would see their annual clothing allowance drop from $150 per year to $40 per year. There would also be fewer subsidized summer jobs for low-income teenagers.  And community orchestras and dance troupes would lose funding.

The budget also includes the Senate’s take on a controversial plan to let cities and towns reduce their employee’s health insurance benefits. When the House passed a similar plan last month, public employee unions across the state were furious. Unions seem to like the Senate version better, but observers still expect some heated debate towards the end of the week.
Also this week, Governor Deval Patrick could be called to the stand in the trial of former house speaker Sal DiMasi. The ex-speaker is accused of taking kickbacks in exchange for steering two lucrative state contracts to the software firm Cognos. If called, Patrick is expected to testify that DiMasi directly lobbied him on behalf of the firm. Prosecutors say they could wrap up their case by Friday.

About the Authors
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.


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